During Men’s Health Week 13-19 June 2016
By Dr Mark Wetton- Clinical Psychologist
As a clinical psychologist, I speak to many men who clearly have unreasonably high expectations of themselves. It is almost like these men perceive themselves to be some kind of super hero, or as the expression goes, “10 foot tall and bulletproof”.
Well perhaps this is an exaggeration, they usually don’t believe that they are bulletproof, but they might believe that they should be able to:
• Work 12 hours a day, six days a week, and do this for the foreseeable future without consequence.
• Complete any challenge that comes their way, despite how many responsibilities they currently have on their plate.
• Sleep the bare minimum every week.
• Consume large amounts of alcohol or drugs weekly, or even daily, without consequence.
• Prioritise work or personal interests above everything else.
• Solider on independently, regardless of whether they are struggling.
But by the time I talk to them, usually via a referral from their doctor, they are struggling. They have discovered that they can’t meet their own expectations… and they can’t accept this to be true – they interpret this as failing at life in some way. These men often report many of the following experiences:
• They are baffled as to why their body and brain won’t let them keep fighting on as they have been.
• They are frustrated by why they can’t sleep properly because their brain won’t shut off.
• They are sad that they feel more distant or isolated from friends and family.
• They are uncomfortable about the fact that they now avoid certain situations when they never used to.
• They struggle to get out of bed, when this never used to be a problem.
• They realise that they are now drinking alcohol every day, when they used to only drink on the weekend.
• And they might feel worthless.
And most alarmingly for everyone that genuinely cares about their welfare, they might feel like life is not worth living anymore.
What these men are likely experiencing is an over-extension of their capacity to cope. What men need to know is that this is a well-understood scenario that reliably contributes to mental health issues for many men.
The reality is that men, just like women, are humans. And decades of scientific research into humans leads us to one fact that cannot be ignored: Each human has a limited capacity for many things, and if we extend over and above our capacity in any area for too long we are likely to break down.
So I suggest that it is helpful for men to consider themselves as humans first, and to set their personal expectations accordingly, rather than aspiring to be ‘super men’. This is a crucial first step in managing mental health.
After all, the hero who can ‘leap buildings in a single bound’ is actually an alien from another planet, not a human…
For more information on Dr Mark Wetton and the team of Brisbane Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au